Expert Drinker

Photo credit to James Martin. Pic first appeared on his blog, The Sipologist. At this time two years ago, I was wasting away in an office job to make money. It was what I thought a career had to be -- grunt work with a generous helping of boredom and convoluted power structures.

When I got the chance to bartend, I jumped on it. From the outside, it seemed both nerdy and glamorous, and I wanted to be part of that culture. To catch up, I studied drink and product flashcards every day. I asked bartenders I knew for book recommendations, and read them all the time.

After a little while, I started writing about what I'd learned. It was easy and challenging all at once: I'd become passionate about cocktails, so I wanted to do their stories justice. It was a topic I'd come to know well, so it was sometimes hard to translate my knowledge into an accessible story.

But explaining product and cocktails are both parts of bartending, so I used every shift to refine my narrative about a certain drink or a technique or an ingredient. Once I started practicing, it became easier and easier to explain it out loud and in writing.

As an adult, I've had trouble owning up to what I am and what I want to be. It took me a long time to call myself a writer, and a few months of bartending full-time before I would call myself a bartender without a qualifier. Even now, I'm not a drinks expert. What I am is an expert drinker. I've developed a palate, know how to balance and re-balance a cocktail, and consult the Flavor Bible enough to figure out what liquors play well with what flavors.

I'm still learning, and I'm still putting off reading the stack of cocktail books I keep by my bed. With writing, tutoring, and regular bartending shifts, I can make time to read an article or two every day, but I've had a lot of trouble keeping pace with my drinks library. To become a true drinks expert, I'll have to dive back in, and soon. I'll start on it tomorrow.

Shake it off: Wednesday confessions

Crafty balls. After bartending last night, I slept in today. The result: a compulsion to share everything with you and a need for puppy cuddles. To satisfy the second item, I've trapped Tessie on the couch with me. To fulfill the first, I've put together a list of eight things you probably don't need to know about me.

1. I don't like pants. Or clothing in general. Really, it's mostly a hatred of shopping for new clothes when old ones wear out. It's time-consuming, and for a 6'1" woman, expensive. I don't like spending money or judging my body, so shopping is a generally poor experience.

2. I'm clumsy. Adam calls me Baby Giraffe. If I'm leaning on a counter, there's a 40 percent chance I started falling over and tried to make it look cool. I probably shouldn't be allowed to own a high temp glue gun. Oh well. Thanks, Internet!

3. I'm crafty. I love knitting, sewing, and making things by hand. In preparation for the wedding, Adam's helped me make five textured paper balls out of coffee filters, wiffle balls, and hot glue.

4. Taylor Swift's music is catchy. And I don't hate (most of) it.

5. Music Through The Night is rad. In fact, I listen to it on the way home after almost every shift.

6. Vodka isn't my thing. Whiskey and beer are. But if vodka is your spirit of choice, order it proudly -- the most important part of a drinking experience is that you're happy with what you consume.

7. Writing isn't a hobby. It's what gets me out of bed, keeps me moderately sane, and puts my mind in order. It's not a hobby or a passing fancy -- it's my trade. I use that skill to make money.

8. I vote. And I believe that each adult within the U.S. political system has a responsibility to educate themselves on the issues and exercise their political voice, both in and out of the voting booth. With that said, if you exercise your first amendment rights on Facebook approximately 1,293 per week, I maintain the right to hide your posts.

Post title from either the Florence + The Machine song or the Taylor Swift song of the same name.

Lessons from dog

IMG_1971 Last January, Adam and I adopted a gorgeous little Chesapeake Bay retriever/golden retriever blend* from Decatur Animal Services. Tessie's a rambunctious, affectionate dog who will bounce up and down next to you if she's excited, and loves playing fetch. She loves people, but will act out to test her boundaries.

As I've said before, she's taught me some important lessons about life -- and about writing. Tessie's older now, and as she's matured, she's taught me more about how to value the important things in life.

Go after big challenges. Tessie tries to pick up sticks that are longer than she is every time we go for a walk. If given the chance, she'll lay down and chew them into bite-sized pieces. Like sticks, challenges can be broken into tiny, manageable steps until it's doable. But you won't know that until you face it, pick it up, and carry it around for a while.

Show your people you love them. Retrievers are some of the most loving animals, and want to please you above all else. They will chew up your stuff, and maybe even some of your favorite stuff, but you'll forgive them for it. Even if you discipline them, they'll still want to cuddle later. People make intentional and unintentional mistakes every day. Love them anyways.

Don't forget to play. Everyone needs some time with friends to let off steam. Have fun. Make memories. Be silly.

Friends sit. There's a lot to say for just being present. Sometimes, it's not possible or appropriate to say anything at all, and being there can say more than anything. Your human friends might not pet you, but being there can be as comforting as petting your dog.

Everybody messes up. One night, Adam and I came home to a puppy that had moved an unopened bottle of Noah's Mill bourbon and chewed through the wax and cork. She had spilled most of the whiskey and lapped up a bit of it, and she was tipsy. I was pissed, but since we didn't know how much she'd drunk, I was more worried. We stayed up with her for a while to make sure she was drinking water, had food, and was OK. I checked on her a couple times during the night, and we took her running the next day. Friends, coworkers, family -- everybody makes mistakes.

Be unafraid. Even if a bigger (or more self-important) dog is in your face, it doesn't mean that you won't prevail. Stick to your guns, and don't let anyone push you into doing something that makes you ethically or professionally uncomfortable.

*That was the pound's best guess to her lineage. She was a stray, so they can't say for certain.

Cocktail of the Hour -- the Aviation

Aviation line. To truly enjoy the Aviation and appreciate its name, you have to think back to when air travel was a luxury. Picture a elegant seating area inhabited by suave gentlemen and well-coifed ladies. Imagine full-service dinners on tables with real table cloths served by happy stewardesses (term used for historical effect).

In that context, the Aviation's name and makeup makes more sense. It's a bit of a mystery -- I couldn't find much background on this Prohibition-era cocktail other than it was inspired by the air travel available around that time. It's a crisp cocktail with a tart bite and a dry finish. Per the recipes I found online, it's also incredibly versatile.

Per Wondrich's article on Esquireit's made with maraschino liqueur, but no crème de violette. This recipe first appeared in Harry Craddock's 1930 edition of the Savoy Cocktail Book, and makes the drink reminiscent of the icy cloudscape that passengers experience when they fly.

According to most other sources, the crème de violette is essential: it provides the drink's recognizable hazy purple-blue color. Either way, it's a gorgeous drink that can call up memories of a simpler -- and more glamorous -- time. To find your way back, experiment with the proportions until you find what takes you back.

Recipe: 1 tsp Crème de Violette (optional) 1/2 oz maraschino liqueur 3/4 oz freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice 2 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, and shake vigorously until chilled, about 12-18 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a maraschino cherry (optional).

Writing A Better Future: My goals for the next year

Photo credit to Mary Katherine Morris. Over the past year, I've written for publications I read growing up. Though most outlets weren't lucrative, this work built a portfolio of clips from many different industries. During the next year, I plan to focus even more closely on establishing my writing career.

About nine months ago, I began treating my writing as a business rather than as a hobby. I took calculated risks, shamelessly promoted myself, and began hustling. Once I did, I started asking the right (and the wrong) questions of more experienced writers. I read everything I could find about business writing, and started implementing their techniques.

Now, I've hit a plateau. Since September, my month of just doing it, I haven't placed an article in a new market. I've had more pitches rejected than ever before. Conversely, I've pitched more new outlets than ever before.

But I'm still scared -- still anxious that my writing isn't good or quippy or editable. That it won't be enough, and because of it, I won't be enough. It's still a scary possibility to me, and it's one that I'm no longer willing to entertain.

A few days ago, I hit the point where I refuse to take crap from anyone. Including myself. As a result, this line of thought is no longer tolerated because I am enough, both in writing and in life. With this attitude, I will break into new markets, learn about new topics, and generally kick ass.

With this attitude, no one can stand in my way. Watch out.

See Clair Write Like Crazy

Celebrate ALL THE HOLIDAYS. Two years ago, I started this blog as a way to connect with other woman writers through the Blog Like Crazy challenge. That November, I skipped a couple days and made it to day 27. Then I stopped blogging for a month. Last year, I did something similar. I started strong, kept writing posts a couple days ahead, and then I quit with a few days left.

Since then, I've posted sporadically about things I wanted and/or needed to shape into words. Instead of blogging, I've been writing my butt off for publications on all different levels. Instead of using my blog as a writing exercise, I pretend that people can't see my blog has been neglected.

Let me be clear: this problem is one that I've dreamed of having, but now that it's present, I'm scared of screwing it up. I spend inordinate amounts of time overthinking word choices and syntax. I pitch headlines and ledes and then work with editors to craft them into something eye-catching.

But most of the time, I'm writing. I'm pulling together stories and articles from memories and research. Putting words on paper (or a computer screen) releases pressure I didn't know was building up in my brain, and keeps me grounded.

This November, I won't be blogging like crazy -- I'll be writing like crazy. Every day, I'll post either a blog entry or an article that went live that day. For the article days, I'll write up a little blurb about the piece's background. Expect things like tips for research, how to keep interviews on course, or even thoughts on negotiating writer's block.

Hopefully, a month of celebrating writing, and especially blogging, will help me to rekindle my love for the medium. Even if it doesn't, it'll get me back into the habit of writing every day. Once I get that back on track, I'll be unstoppable.

 

Starting Fresh

Photo credit to Jessica Jack Wyrick "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

Last weekend, I came across the Mary Oliver poem that included that line, and it's stuck with me. Since then, I've been hustling my freelance game harder than ever before. As a result, I'm calling September The Month of Just Doing It. So far, I've pitched two national publications and one regional one. I've requested an update from a private client, and scheduled an interview.

Even though I haven't been blogging, I've been writing more than ever before on many of the same topics. Here's a handy list of life updates:

  • I still love cocktails. My dream of writing for mental_floss has been a reality for almost a year, and my editor's help in finding my voice in science writing has been invaluable. Read those posts here.
  • I'm exercising regularly. Not all of the written entries have been posted yet, but having Chris Conn as my personal trainer at Omega Life Fitness has pushed me to a new level of fitness. On to the next goal.
  • Rejection is OK. I've already had a pitch rejected from one national publication, but immediately pitched another. If my motivation to keep moving, working, failing and learning ever stops, I'm finished as a freelancer. For The Month of Just Doing It, I will continue to research and pitch new stories, even if they fail. I also entered a cocktail competition earlier this year and made it to the finals. I didn't win, but did learn a lot from the process itself.
  • I'm engaged. Even before I was engaged, I was writing for Love Inc., a wedding publication dedicated to all love -- equally. I've written about buying a wedding dress, getting engaged (in that order), and various industry trends.
  • I don't like new things. As a writer, being change-averse is both silly and counter-productive. Without experiencing new things, you can't develop new material for any medium. This weekend, Adam and I went to a marksmanship clinic. It was a new and thoroughly frustrating experience, but I can now hit a target with a damn fine grouping at 100 yds, and am a passable shot up to 400 yds. This winter, I'll go hunting with Adam for the first time.
  • Bartending is still awesome. Writing and bartending are two of my passions, and getting to pursue them both concurrently is amazing. But both take hustle, hard work and energy. Over the next few months, I'll be ramping up my networking on both fronts to see how I can move them forward.

Cocktail of the Hour -- the Ramos Gin Fizz

Photo credit to Mary Katherine Morris Photography The Ramos Gin Fizz is one of the most time-intensive and physically challenging drinks for bartenders. In fact, its original instructions call for a 12-minute-long hard shake. Though most modern bars will shake it for two to five minutes, it still requires an intense physical effort. As a result, some bars will charge a lot more for this libation if it's ordered during peak service hours.

Out of respect for my fellow bartenders, I'd been hesitant to post about it. With the advent of spring, this delicious, traditional New Orleans cocktail is something I've been craving on a regular basis. As well, its surprisingly straightforward place in history should be discussed and respected.

With all that said, please be considerate of your bartender when ordering this drink.

Historically, this drink has its origins  in the 1880s. Henry Ramos, a New Orleans bartender of the time, created this drink and ignited a craze. It became so popular that he had at least ten bartenders on the clock every night to keep up with demand. It's not hard to see why -- its creamy, fluffy texture is reminiscent of Lebanese ice cream and its taste is light, delicate, floral and entirely tasty.

As with most classics, variations on this drink have been made with different syrups, juices and garnishes. As spring approaches, experiment with different gins (I prefer either the Old Tom style) or different proportions to fit your taste.

Recipe:

1 dash orange flower water (orange blossom water is the same thing) 1 egg white .5 oz fresh lemon juice .5 oz fresh lime juice .5 0z simple syrup .75 oz heavy whipping cream 2 oz gin

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake vigorously without ice for at least 45 seconds. Add ice and shake vigorously for several minutes until the tin is frosty. Strain into a chilled Collins glass and top with soda water to create the foam cap.

Cocktail of the Hour -- the Sherry Flip

photo (5)After ten months of bartending, I've tasted through quite a few different sherries. Before that, I considered sherry to be a product only for cooks and older women. Needless to say, the range of styles and flavors quickly turned my apprehension into appreciation. In cocktails, this ingredient can add aspects such as dryness or a sweet, round nuttiness. High quality sherry also adds a lovely rich, velvety body. Flips are the oldest defined class of cocktail. Modern variations usually involve an egg, sweetening agent and base liquor or liqueur, but the earliest flips were most likely variations of a spiced, sweetened and beer-based punch. This cold weather drink was probably also heated with a poker, causing sugars to caramelize and the whole brew to hiss and boil. The result was a complex mix of sweet and bitter from quickly heating the mix with the poker.

About 150 years ago, the first references to cold flips appear. As rum and other spirits became more available within Europe and elsewhere, they replaced beer as the base for the flip. Some bartenders (or home bartenders) added egg and sometimes cream to the mixture, and the cold flip was born. Though the inclusion of cream is now categorized separately, this class of drinks has a long and well-established history.

Since most bars no longer stock fire-heated pokers (can haz industrial heating rod?), cold flips have become the more prevalent cocktail option. These creamy, sweet, rich confections are the perfect nightcap or post-dinner dessert.

Recipe: 2 dashes Chocolate molé bitters 1 whole unpasteurized farm egg* 1 tsp Grade B maple syrup 2 oz sherry (NOT CREAM OR COOKING SHERRY) Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 20 seconds without ice. Add ice and shake for an additional 20 seconds or until combined and chilled through. Strain into a chilled rocks glass.

*If you're apprehensive about using an uncooked egg in a cocktail, read my primer on the subject here.

Cocktail of the Hour -- the Manhattan

manhattan drink 2After researching a lot of cocktails with contentious origins, it comes as no surprise that the ever-popular Manhattan has many origin legends. The drink was definitely a bar staple by the 1860s, but the details of where and when it was created are largely lost to history. One of the most interesting stories was that it was invented for a party thrown by Winston Churchill's mother at the Manhattan Club. Unfortunately, the historical record indicates that she was across the pond giving birth during the time of this party. Other sources give credit to a bartender named Black who worked in another bar in Manhattan. If this was the case, it's likely that this libation was created to be one of the five cocktails named for New York City's five main boroughs. Despite its lack of historical figures, this tale is likely the most true.

Interestingly, putting together an original Manhattan is almost as  impossible as piecing together its backstory. The oldest recorded recipe calls for a few dashes of Boker's bitters in equal parts rye whiskey and sweet vermouth. A few decades ago, the original Boker's bitters went out of production, so unless you're willing to shell out some serious cash for a vintage bottle, you're unlikely to ever taste the most historic Manhattan.

As well, modern palates (and bartenders) favor spirit-heavy drinks over vermouth-heavy drinks. As a result, the most popular recipe for a Manhattan calls for a 2:1 ratio of whiskey to vermouth. Thanks to a few marketing campaigns featuring the Manhattan, bourbon has largely eclipsed rye in common recipes. Though this substitution doesn't affect the presentation, it gives the drink a much smoother, sweeter taste overall than a rye Manhattan.

manhattan spread 4The rye Manhattan is a dark, slightly sweet cocktail with a hint of spice from the whiskey. An orange peel garnish adds a citrusy nose that compliments the wine and dark fruit of the first sip. Garnishing with a maraschino cherry, by contrast, adds a very sweet finish to a sweet, but balanced drink. Though the origins of this practice are unclear, written records would seem to indicate that the orange peel garnish came first.

Choosing complimentary vermouths and whiskeys is one of the biggest parts of making a delicious Manhattan. For example, a more bitter vermouth like Punt e Mes won't necessarily compliment either the boldness of Rittenhouse rye or a smooth bourbon. However, a more rounded, earthier vermouth like Cocchi Vermouth di Turino or Carpano Antica Formula can bring out the best qualities in either liquor.

Since no two people have the exact same taste preferences, experimentation is the best way to find our your favorite drink recipes. Try out different combinations and see what works for you.

Recipe: 3 dashes Angostura bitters 1 dash Heering cherry liqueur 1 oz sweet vermouth 2 oz rye whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir until well incorporated. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel or maraschino cherry depending on your preference.

Red Flags

red-flags1During a tutoring session yesterday, I overheard a preliminary interview between a young freelance graphic designer and a businessman. Their conversation included phrases like "Let's keep this in cash, but I won't see you before the first deadline. I don't trust the U.S. Postal Service to deliver anything, much less money, but it's probably our best bet." Several times during their conversation, the businessmen made some statements that would have sent me running for cover. After a few hours, their conversation was still rumbling around the back of my head. To compensate, I made a list of ways to tactfully respond to things that would make me immediately (or slowly) turn tail.

  • "I'd expect to get minor changes resolved ASAP. Our last in-house designer would take 12 - 24 hours for minor things and that's unacceptable." "Unfortunately, sometimes changes that appear minor on the surface can cause a lot of changes to style or composition. I will do my best to get changes back to you in the timeliest possible fashion."
  • "I'm not familiar with the software you've used. Can you swap over to [this dissimilar program]?" "Yes, but only if you're willing to pay for the cost of the program and a slight fee to learn it.
  • "If we give you a check, we'll have to send you a 1099." "If this contract extends to less than $600, a 1099 is not required by the IRS. Though it's a pain in the butt, those forms also allow me to write off related expenses."
  • "I'd really rather pay you in cash." "That will work, but I will require a written contract, half of the total amount before I begin the project and the other half at the time of completion. Are you available on [this date] to meet to discuss the particulars of the arrangement?"
  • "Awlright, sweetheart." *dead eyed stare.* "Is there anything else you'd like to discuss?"

I'm Not a Mixologist

Photo c/o IFC During bar shifts, one of the most frequent questions from customers is if I'm a mixologist or a bartender. I usually reply that I'm just a really nerdy bartender. Recently, people have accused me of selling myself short through my answer. The truth is that I just don't like the term "mixologist."

As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, a mixologist is "a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks." At its root, a mixologist is a craft bartender who's good at what they do. However, the definition is vague and fails to take into account the word's connotations.

The first problem with the term is that no standard is set. It's unclear which cocktails are required knowledge and what skills must be used in their creation. Since craft bartending is a vibrant and evolving field, this requirement is fluid. New cocktails are created daily, and the amount of knowledge available about product and classic recipes and cocktail history is constantly expanding.

My biggest problem with the term is with the word's connotations. A mixologist is someone who is interesting but largely unapproachable. Their quirky drinks or personal eccentricities can alienate parts of the population by making them feel out of place. In the Portlandia episode "Mixologist," bartender Andy Samberg makes a ridiculous and somewhat off-putting cocktail that makes his customers swoon. Three cheers for a ginger-based bourbon drink with rotten bananas, egg whites, egg yellows, lime zest and much more...

Though he's playing up the role, he's riffing on everything that can make craft cocktails intimidating. In a city like Birmingham where the cocktail scene is still growing and developing, it's easy to spook people who are new to the concept. That said, it's just as easy to make customers feel welcome and answer their questions about drinks and product. To do so, you just have to be a really nerdy bartender.

Cocktail of the hour -- the Tom Collins

photo (3)Over the past two weeks, the weather in Alabama has ranged from snowy and cold to severe thunderstorms and highs in the 70s. Since we're quite confused about whether to turn on the heat or air conditioning, I thought it would be a great time to feature a cocktail named for a troublemaker -- the Tom Collins. Cocktail historians will tell you that this drink was named for a 19th century bartender, a prank that shares his name or both. The prank was pretty simple: a mischievous chap would pick a target and convince him that a fellow named Tom Collins was either looking for him or had been taking full advantage of him. It was such a popular gag that the height of its popularity has been dubbed the Great Tom Collins Hoax of 1874.

Some commerce-minded bartender proceeded to name a drink after the hoax. After that point, unsuspecting victims who barged into pubs clamoring for Tom Collins would find themselves served a rather delicious beverage. Credit for the drink's creation is where the story gets murky. Many sources give this honor to John Collins, a waiter from London's Limmer's Old House. If the drink originally bore his name, it's likely that the change came from substituting Old Tom gin for another style.

Though its exact origin may be unclear, the Tom Collins first appeared in Jerry Thomas's 1876 The Bartender's Guide. Since then, it's become one of the most iconic and refreshing summer cocktails. Like the French 75, its light, fizzy, citrusy deliciousness is built around a potent base spirit that packs a wallop. As the Girl Scouts say, be prepared.

Recipe

1 oz simple syrup 1 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 oz gin (preferably Old Tom gin)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for 12-15 seconds or until cold. Strain into a chilled Collins glass over ice. Top with club soda or sparkling water to taste.

Writing lessons learned from my puppy

Tessie's first snow day. About a month ago, Adam and I adopted a retriever blend puppy from Decatur Animal Services. Our mostly well-behaved Tessie has adjusted well, and we've all gotten the hang of our new routine. During that time, I've also learned some valuable lessons from watching her play and grow.

Shit happens. Clean it up, set better boundaries and move on. There's really nothing to be gained except more stress from focusing on it for any longer than you have to.

Chase what you love. Even when it's tough or you just want to nap or it seems someone's stolen your ball -- er, idea -- keep chasing it until you've got a firm grasp. Then, play with it. Come up with a fresh angle of attack and carry it all the way back to your editor.

Multitasking is like trying to fit two toys in your mouth at once. The moment you've got a grasp on one, the other falls out. Personally, I end up getting distracted from one project any time I get an idea about the other and both end up jumbled and in need of a rewrite. Focus on one, and some of the distractions are gone.

Food is really, really important. Recently, time crunches have meant I've eaten too much junk and too few veggies. As a result, my energy levels, concentration and health have taken a nose dive. That's started to change for the better, but still can use some work.

Sleep is even more important. It's OK to flop over and nap when you've tired yourself out running after stories. Just set a timer, get back up and go after it.

Toys and stories are hidden everywhere. Yes, the possibility of rejection makes pitching difficult, but an unwillingness to dig for topics (or treasure or sticks) isn't an excuse. Keep looking and pitching and it'll come together. Promise.

Get out from behind the screen. If Tessie's up on the couch with me, she'll walk on my laptop keyboard and lick my screen if she needs anything. I've taken more productive breaks for a short burst of exercise or mental health cuddles since we adopted her than ever before. As a writer, these breaks prevent burnout and will, ultimately, make me stronger and healthier overall. It also never hurts to spend time with a puppy.

Cocktail of the hour -- the Harvard

Photo credit to Brent Beachtel Before high fructose corn syrup was king, colleges had cocktails. Not the sugar-soaked-violently-neon-OMG-Spring-Break cocktails, but more sippable drinks that packed a wallop. During the early 1900s, the Harvard was one such cocktail. This cognac-based Manhattan variation has a rich, earthy and spicy from the brandy that's balanced by the warmth and sweetness of vermouth.

The Harvard first appeared in print in George Kappeler's 1895 Modern American Drinks. Like the Manhattan, the Harvard's original recipe calls for equal parts liquor and vermouth. After these ingredients are mixed, the Harvard's recipe diverges with a splash of soda water. In the original proportion, the brandy gets lost under the additional dilution.

Within the first 20 years of the 20th century, this cocktail was rebalanced to be more spirit-forward. This newer recipe has endured to present, and changes the ratio to two parts cognac to one part vermouth. Changing the ratio balances the liquor content with both the vermouth's sweetness and prevents over dilution, leading to a much more balanced drink.

Interestingly, Harvard variations including Chartreuse, citrus juice, maraschino liqueur and other sweeteners are occasionally mentioned in pre-Prohibition documents. That said, these Fancy (or Improved) Harvards have mostly been lost to history. Besides, this solidly balanced cocktail needs very little tweaking; it's lush and delicious in its original form.

Recipe 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters 1 oz sweet vermouth 2 oz brandy

Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 12-17 seconds or until well combine. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with some club soda. Garnish with an orange peel if feeling citrusy.

Cocktail of the hour -- the Pimm's Cup

Pimms2In the craft cocktail world, many drinks can fall under the umbrella of a single name. The Pimm's Cup definitely belongs in this category, but it's also special because the name only comes with two requirements: it must contain Pimm's and it must be served in a cup. As a result, it's rare to find two bars -- or even two home bartenders -- who make this libation the same way. Many variations on this theme are tangy, sweet and refreshing. Originally, Pimm's made six different liqueurs from different liquors that were infused with their proprietary blend of herbs, spices and juices. Due to changes in management and demand, Pimm's No. 2 - 5 were discontinued about 40 years ago. Now, the only Pimm's available in the U.S. is Pimm's No. 1: a tea-colored, gin-based herbal liqueur.

This citrusy liqueur does well when combined with citrus, spice, berries or herbs. Thanks to its deep flavor, each of these different ingredients brings out unique qualities in its taste. Though the first Pimm's cup is thought to have been created by a British bartender named Pimm's, the historical record is entirely fuzzy on its origins. Historically, New Orleans and Britain have both claimed the Pimm's cup as their quintessential drinks, so you should create your own house Pimm's cup to suit your own taste.

Recipe:

1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice 1 oz simple syrup 2 oz Pimm's No. 1

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Add ice and shake for 12-15 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a chilled Collin's glass full of ice and top with ginger beer to taste.

Stock the Bar 2

There's a stock photo for almost any blog post or topical website you can dream up. Outside of those, so many random images exist that it's difficult to figure out exactly why a given website keeps them on hand. About a month ago, David Griner challenged me to choose the drinks I'd make for some of the weirdest stock photo characters he could dig up. Here's the second installment. Credit here.

Oh, my! I do believe her delicate sensibilities would surely require a Mint Julep to calm her nerves if it was summertime. Since chilly weather has set in, she'll have to daintily remove her gloves to sip a Ward 8. The dratted Yankees do make such delicious cocktails.

Credit here.

I've probably been reading too much zombie lit, because her lab coat currently reminds me of mad scientists and CDC affiliates. However, her tight smile and suspicious orange flask can only mean one thing -- conspiracy! To take her out of the game, I'd make her a few Corpse Reviver No. 2s. As the famous Henry Craddock said, one or two of these concoctions can revive the corpse, but "four or more taken in quick succession will unrevive the corpse again."

Credit here.

Drinking at home may be the best way to save a few bucks, but at the bar, you have to stick to straight liquor to save money. This chap looks like a traditional bourbon guy, so he'll have a one ounce pour of W. L. Weller Special Reserve.

Credit here.

If Ab Man comes in for a post-fight drink, I'll serve him a Horse's Neck. Hopefully the name won't remind him of any bad experiences during his stint in Mother Russia. Since he's probably going to go back out after cementing his whereabouts at the bar, he'll probably want it in its original mocktail form -- ginger ale with the peel of a whole lemon. Bourbon can take too much of the fight out of a hero.

Credit here.

No red-blooded 'Merican wants the Commies to win, but the service industry is about serving customers. I'll make him a Cuba Libre, but if he's meeting up with his pals, I'll phone back in time to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Cocktail of the Hour -- the Ward 8

photo (1) Out of all the contentious drinks I've featured so far, the Ward 8 might just top them all. With at least three origin stories and hundreds of recipes, the diversity of its manifestations almost rivals the Old Fashioned's. In fact, when a New York Sun writer called for readers to submit their Ward 8 recipes in the 1940s, he received more than 500 replies.

People get territorial over their whiskey cocktails.

According to the available mishmash of cocktail history, Boston was definitely the Ward 8's birthplace. It was probably created within a decade of 1900, and is most likely named for one of the city's voting districts. The most popular backstory is that it was created to celebrate a political boss's election victory in north Boston, but this story seems to have originated in 1951. Other sources credit other bartenders who worked at the hotel where this alleged party occurred and yet others give credit to other venues.

The Ward 8 is a whiskey sour sweetened with grenadine. The use of orange juice and the amount of grenadine varies by recipe, but however it's made, it usually turns out light, spicy and slightly dry. Since so many recipes for this beverage exist, I'm not going off the reservation by saying that if my recipe doesn't suit your fancy, tweak it until it does.

Ward 8 1 tsp - .5 oz grenadine (to taste) .5 oz lemon juice .75 oz orange juice 2 oz whiskey Add all ingredients to a shaker tin. Shake vigorously for 13-17 seconds or until cooled through and strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Introducing -- Stock The Bar

Last week, David Griner challenged me to pick the drinks I'd mix for stock photo characters. After a few trial names were thrown about, Stock The Bar was born. Without further ado, here's round one! brick man

1. Brickman obviously needs a Blood & Sand. It's sweet without being cloying and contains Scotch -- the perfect combination to loosen him up. But watch out for sales pitches. The drink's color may trigger residual brick salesmanship.

Source

2. Silence in the library! This perturbed teacher probably loves quiet, Doctor Who and suspenders, so a Sidecar would be suitably geeky. It might be a little sweet for her taste, so I'd add a dash or two of bitters to dry it out.

Source

3. Following the Golden Rule is paramount in life, so this yogi will drink as I drink. Does rye whiskey, lemon juice, Luxardo and green Chartreuse sound appealing? Maybe not on paper, but he'll have the Final Word.

Source

4. If Fae Barbie wants a double vodka soda with lime, that's what she'll get. Unless she's an avowed whiskey drinker as well, there's not much I can do to change her preference.

Source

5. This child of the corn will take a Dirt 'n' Diesel. With blackstrap rum, Fernet, demerara, Cynar and lime juice, this earthy recipe needs rebalancing but should be dark, rich and challenging.

Cocktail of the hour -- the French 75

photo (1)Since it's my birthday week, I thought that an easy, bubbly cocktail would be perfect for the Cocktail of the Hour re-inauguration. The French 75 is just gin, citrus, sugar and champagne (or prosecco, if you're partial). Despite its simplicity, the drink packs a kick much like its namesake -- an accurate and quick-firing field gun used in World War I. Per cocktail lore, this lovely libation was most likely named by a Parisian bartender around 1915ish, but its roots go back much further. In the 19th century, upper class folks on both sides of the pond drank a mixture of bubbly, citrus, sugar and ice. Dump in a little bit of readily available gin and voila, the French 75.

Other stories indicate that the French 75 was also, in some circles, a brandy drink. The shift away from brandy may have been caused by the wine shortage that also changed the Sazerac's base liquor. Personally, I prefer gin to brandy here -- gin makes the cocktail herbaceous while brandy slightly spices and sweetens it. If I can get my hands on a bottle of Pierre Ferrand 1840, I'll try it again and report back.

It's also possible that a bartender subbed champagne for soda in a Tom Collins as some early versions of the recipe specify that the drink is served over ice. In this version of the French 75's origin story, it's not clear if the substitution was intentional. Regardless, the result was delicious.

Like the daiquiri and gimlet, this cocktail probably existed for decades before it was named, so history buffs and cocktail nerds alike can savor its qualities.

Recipe: 1 oz gin .5 oz lemon juice .5 oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. Shake for 12-18 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a champagne flute or coupe glass and top with 1 - 2 ounces of champagne.